Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Yoga is not Religion

Yoga is not a religion.  Now, some people have made it into one, but that is a whole “nother” post.  The idea of infallibility comes from religion. In yoga, there is no heaven for people who do good and hell for those who do bad. There is just karma or the consequences of whatever actions you take. This idea that spiritual people are perfect has nothing to do with yoga.  Yoga tells us that we will fall. We will will mess up. When, not if, but when we mess up, we pick ourselves up and get back on the path.

One of the 9 obstacles of yoga, mentioned in Yoga Sutras of Patanjali vs 1:30 is slipping from the ground gained.  The Yoga Sutras is very clear that if we don’ t constantly put in the work, we will fall. We will backslide.

Pick up any book on yoga and it becomes crystal clear that yogis can well, be normal. Ravana, the demon of the Ramayana, was gifted his powers because of  years of tapas and yogic austerities. After getting his powers, his ego grew so huge that Rama was sent to get rid of him.  Rama exiled his wife, Sita, even though he knew she was innocent.  Arjuna, the hero of the Gita, who received many boons because of his righteousness, in the end, questioned God.  Siva was known for being a ladies man and had quite the temper.

People on the spiritual path go back and from between being a Yogi, someone who can see the world and themselves for what is is, and being a human who is blocked and blind. Many commentators say that, Arjuna was able to go to battle and not observe Ahimsa, nonviolence,  because at that moment, he was not a yogi. After all, he was questioning God. It was Arjuna’s duty to end years of suffering, wickedness and unjust treatment with war. He was still a good person. He was still homies with Lord Krishna, who loved him so much, that he drove his chariot and patently answered all his questions. He was still good with God. But maybe, depending on who you talk to, he was not observing his yogic vows.

Yoga accepts that we got stuff that we need to work on.  The yoga sutras says that if we don’t learn to still our minds, we WILL mistake our own stories and BS for truth.  To embark on yoga, we need to accept that we will fall victim to the 9 obstacles.






False Perception

Failure to Reach Firm Ground


Slipping From the Ground Gained

Ashtanga Yoga teacher Sharath Jois,  talks about the 6 poisons,







The yoga sutras is also clear that, if you want to not fall victim to these obstacles, you have to work. I know. I know. We just want to do what feels good. That is not what the yoga sutras says.  The Yoga Sutras is very clear that all yogis, even those who have experienced Samadhi have to be be diligent or the ego can rise again.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:13: EFFORT towards steadiness of mind is practice.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:14: Practice becomes firmly grounded when WELL ATTENDED TO for a long time, WITHOUT BREAK and IN ALL EARNESTNESS.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:33: By CULTIVATING attitudes of friendliness towards the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard towards the wicked, the mind stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:18: By the firmly convinced PRACTICE of the complete cessaiton of the mental modifications, the impressions only remain.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:22 the time needed for success further depends on whether PRACTICE IS MILD, MEDIUM OR INTENSE

I am sure I could find more but you see where I am going with this right? This idea that once we become “spiritual” that we know every thing, we have arrived, we always know what is good for us, we should never fall, is a myth. As a matter of fact, it should be the other way around. The more spiritual we are, the more we realize that we know nothing.

The difference between a fool and an intelligent person is that an intelligent person knows how foolish he is; a fool does not. Noticing the stupidity of who you are is great intelligence. Anything in this existence – a tree, a blade of grass, a grain of sand, one single atom – do you understand any of these things fully? No. When this is your level of intelligence and perception, how should you walk in the world? Gently, with a little humility, respect and love for everything around you.-Sadhguru

The majority of us are not here to get it all right or to even get it all done.  The Yoga Sutras talks about karma and how some of us will have to reap the repercussions of our actions for a long time to come. Some of us are just not going to get it. It is a practice. When you practice, you mess up.

Sharath says, “don’t get mad at me if you are tight. Blame your parents.”

Yoga  says we were born with some stuff, we picked up some stuff, we get rid of some stuff, and possibly will pick up that same stuff again. If you are lucky, you will will burn your stuff down to a seed that can no longer germinate. If you are not lucky, you are like the majority of the humans on this earth, so still pretty blessed.

You might be tight or you might be flexible. You can still practice yoga. You might have a ton of karma or very little, you can still practice yoga. Yoga exists outside of our stories of perfect spirituality or evil wickedness. At any times, we can put these stories down and get on back on the path.


Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@shannasmallyoga.com.